Airline passengers have been walking through full-body scanners for nearly five years, but only now are fliers getting a chance to officially tell the federal government what they think about the screening machines.
In response to a lawsuit, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit ruled that the Transportation Security Administration could continue to use the scanners as a primary method of screening passengers. But the court ordered the TSA to give the public a 90-day comment period, which the agency did not do when it launched the scanning program.
The TSA began the comment period online in March, and so far it has been getting an average of 26 comments a day — nearly all of which blast the TSA and the scanners for a variety of reasons.
— Hugo Martin, Public Gets Chance to Comment on TSA’s Full-body scanners, LA Times, April 21
There are now over 4500 comments on regulations.gov, and sentiment continue to be overwhelmingly against the scanners. There are so many reasons to oppose them, it’s hard to know where to start: rights, effectiveness, cost, fairness, culture … see the Twitter Privacy chat discussion or EPIC’s preliminary analysis (PDF) for more details. So it’s a golden opportunity for the loose but broad coalition fighting for a more sensible and less abusive approach to airport security to get the word out about the commenting period and encourage people to submit their own comments.
This is one of the situations where numbers are important. If the TSA only gets a small number of comments, they’ll say it shows that most people don’t have any issues and it’s only a “tiny but vocal” minority who is complaining. But if there are a lot of comments, it’s much harder for the TSA to ignore them (they’re required by law to reply to all the issues that are brought up in the commenting period). A loud enough outcry is likely to get media coverage and maybe even help politicians realize that hey, there’s an issue here that can make them very popular with their constituents!
So to start with, please file your own comments. The most effective comments use your own language, instead of cut-and-paste boilerplate. EPIC recommends that commenters support “Regulatory Alternative #3″ (the use of walk through metal detectors and explosive trace detection devices), support the right of passengers to opt out, describe the devices as “Nude Body Scanners”, and include personal experiences. See below for instructions on how to use the regulations.gov to submit comments — as well as how to send them in by FAX or mail if you prefer.
Once you’ve done that, here are a few easy ways you can help get the word out:
- Share links on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Google+, and whatever social networks you hang out on. A few good links to share: EPIC’s summary page, the direct link to the “docket” on regulations.gov, and the Slashdot thread, articles from Mashable and the Verge, or this blog post!
- Email links to people and mailing lists you think will be interested.
- Look for tweets on the #tsacomments and #tsa hashtags (or from @TSAComments) and retweet them
- Look for good comments on regulations.gov, and tweet them or share them on your favorite social networks.
- If you blog, write a short post. Consider including your comments (or at least excerpts from them), and make sure to include a link to the regulations.gov page.
- Sign up for Reddit, and vote up TSA-related stories. [Why Reddit? It’s been a hotbed of activism on other civil liberties issues like SOPA and CISPA, and there’s a lot of political discussion there as well, so there are likely to be a lot of allies there.]
Question: what other suggestions do people have?